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End frame: The sum of its parts ‘Dalí Atomicus’ by Philippe Halsman

Damian Shields chooses one of his favourite imageschooses one of his favourite images

Damian Shields

Initially more at home with charcoal and oil paint, Damian began exploring the creative possibilities of photography in the mid-nineties. During a portfolio presentation course he became involved in darkroom processing and printing black-and-white film. This sparked the beginnings of a love affair with the medium which subsequently gained him acceptance to the Fine Art Photography department of Glasgow School of Art under landscape photographer Thomas Joshua Cooper.


On receiving the invite by Charlotte to contribute a wee piece to the wonderful ‘On Landscape’ magazine my initial natural reaction was, of course, ‘no problem’ and ‘thank you for the invite’ But before I throw myself into something (hopefully!) resembling an answer I feel I must address the weird mixture of emotions and intellectual discombobulation that ensued.

The question seemed so straightforward on first read, basically pick a favourite image and discuss. Shouldn’t be too difficult eh?.. but, Charlotte’s request subsequently found me questioning my relationship to external artistic influences and fishing for glimpses of myself reflected in the vast sea of imagery my subconscious had absorbed over almost 54 years of pointing my eyeballs into the world. Phew! Not an easy ask, but it ultimately made me realise that as landscape photographers we should routinely stop and consider, not just our direction of travel, but who we are and what exactly are the parts that comprise the sum of ‘you’. Then we might, more steadily, move forward once more.

The image I finally resolved to present here, just like the aforementioned request, is one that provokes a simple reactionary pleasure but leaves you with more questions than answers. I initially stumbled over Philippe Halsman’s ‘Dali Atomicus’ while studying photography at Glasgow School of Art in the 90’s. The arresting scene it presents is on first glance a frozen moment of chaos and motion. The black silhouette of a static chair protrudes from the left edge, a flowing ‘S’ bend of clear water is rendered crystal by the shutter while Dali sports a playful grimace as he hovers in tandem with his easel above the studio floor. Three cats considering legal action* are catapulted horizontally across the painting of the winged ‘Leda Atomica’, a portrait of Dali’s wife Gala.

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